Ben-Haim, Bloch, Korngold: cello concertos (CPO)


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Jewish composers write violin concertos first, piano second. All other instruments are also-rans.

Credit, then to Raphael Wallfisch for dusting off cello concertos by three Jews – the German-born Israeli Paul Ben-Haim, the Austrian-born film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and the Swiss-born American Ernest Bloch.

Ben-Haim, in his 1962 cello concerto, performs his usual fusion act of west and east sonorities – though, on this occasion, not with Yemenite and Palestinian roots so much as Ladino-Balkan, and all the more mellifluous for it. The adagio is especially compelling.

Bloch’s Symphony for cello and orchestra (1954 and his earlier Baal Shem suite (1923) never caught on in the manner of his 1915 Hebrew rhapsody Schelomo, and it’s clear from this hearing that some bits of the score simply don’t hang together.

Korngold’s concerto, on the other hand, deserves a proper showcase. Based on the score of the Bette Davis film Deception, the cello plays voyeur in a tug-of-war love triangle while the orchestra drives up the tension towards an ultimate denouement. Premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Leonard Slatkin’s mother, Eleanor, as soloist, the concerto got trashed by European critics and never got its due. Now might be the moment. Wallfisch plays with apt theatricality and the BBC national orchestra of Wales get really stuck in for the underrated Polish conductor Lukasz Borowicz. This whole disc is a real find.

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

1 Comment

  1. Charlie Cockey on

    To be precise, Erich Korngold was born in the Margraviate of Moravia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the city of Brünne (today known as Brno, in the Czech Republic, NOT in Austria itself. It was only five or six years later that his family moved to Vienna. It were better, certainly more correct, more precise, to have written he was born in “Austria-Hungary”.

    If you want to say that Korngold was born in Austria, then you must also say that Leoš Janáček, Pavel Haas, and Vitěslava Kaprálová, not to mention that most Czech of all writers, Bohumil Hrabal, all of whom were born in Brünne/Brno when it was part of the Empire, were also born in Austria.

    Nevertheless, a wonderful review of a disc definitely worth seeking out.

    A small point, perhaps even a nit, but an important one, I think. (See Einstein, his comment on details)

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